5 October 2012

How to Make an Elasticated Skirt - Guest Post

Have you ever tried shirring anything? Shirrrrrring... (It's at times like these that I wish I could roll my Rs.) It's a technique I used to assume fell into the advanced category of sewing, but the elasticated skirt project below makes it sound so simple. This "how to" is an excerpt from the book Sew Over It by Lisa Comfort, owner of the sewing cafe of the same name (and whose Day in the Life you can read about here.) Over to Lisa to show us how to make it...

Lisa: "Sew Over It was born in May 2011. It was my dream to open a shop dedicated to all things sewing. We have over 30 different classes you can take, a shop full of gorgeous fabrics and kits you can buy, a drop in area where you can hire the machines and of course there's tea and cake! Colour is key to me - it lifts me - so the decor is bright, colourful and filled with lots of pink and blue (our signature colours). The book is an extension of the cafe, offering lots of ideas, inspiration and tips. It covers customising, altering vintage clothes, making accessories and some more 'from scratch' projects like the below...

Make an elasticated skirt from scratch

This is the easiest skirt to make as all you need is one piece of fabric. It is best to use lightweight woven fabric such as cotton as the gathering shows up best.


Tape measure
Woven fabric (for amount, see Steps 1 to 3)
Tailor’s chalk
Set square (optional)
Sewing machine
Pinking shears
1 large spool of shirring elastic
5 mm (¼ in) wide elastic (the length depends on your waist, see Step 11)
Safety pin

1) Measure around your hips – the skirt must be big enough to fit over your hips with enough room to flare.

2) Add approximately 20 cm (8 in) to your hip measurement for the flare. You will also need an extra 2 cm ( ¾ in) for seam allowance. For example, the width of fabric you will need could be:
100 cm (39 in) (hip) +
20 cm (8 in) (flare) +
2 cm (. in) (seam allowance) =
122 cm (47. in).

3) Decide on the length. The design of this skirt is so that it sits on the waist, but you can wear it lower on your hips if you want. Remember to add a 2 cm ( ¾ in) seam allowance for the top hem and another 2 cm ( ¾ in) for the bottom hem.

4) Iron the fabric and then draw out your rectangle on the wrong side using the ruler and tailor’s chalk. Draw the length of the skirt in line with the selvedge and the width running across the fabric. You may find it useful to use a set square to help you get accurate 90° angles (or you can use the edges of a book). Cut out on the lines.

5) Now for some stitching. Place the two shorter edges right sides together and pin in place. Stitch together with a 1 cm ( ½ in) seam allowance. Trim with pinking shears and press the seam open. This is the centre back seam. You will now have a tube shape.

6) While you are at the ironing board you can prepare the top and bottom hems. For the bottom hem, fold up 1 cm ( ½ in) to the inside of the skirt. Press. Then fold up another 1 cm ( ½ in) and press. For the top hem, fold over 5 mm ( ¼ in) to the inside. Press. Then fold over another 1.5 cm (5/8 in) and press. Pop some pins in to keep the folded edges in place.

7) Stitch down both hems, starting and finishing at the seam. On the top hem leave a 2 cm ( ¾ in) gap for the 5 mm ( ¼ in) wide elastic. Reverse stitch at either side of this to prevent the stitches unravelling. Edge stitching looks best, so use a straight stitch to sew 2 mm (1⁄8 in) from the inner folded edge. Go slowly so that you always catch the edge.

8) Now it’s time to use the shirring elastic. Wind the shirring elastic onto the bobbin like you would do with normal thread. You will probably have to do this a few times as this skirt uses a lot. Thread up your sewing machine with the normal sewing thread on top – the elastic only goes in the bobbin underneath.

9) Set your machine to straight stitch with a stitch length of 2.5 and with the needle in the middle position. Starting from the centre back seam of the skirt – approximately 1 cm ( ½ in) from the stitch line of the top hem – sew as straight as you can using a guide point on the machine. Continue all the way round until you get back to where you started. Make sure your stitch meets and reverse at the start and end as usual.

10) Repeat this for as many lines as you want (I stitched 12 rows), always using the previous line as a guide, lining the edge of the presser foot up against the stitch line so that all the rows are parallel. It gets harder with each line as you have to contend with the elastic doing its magic! Stretch it out as best you can so that the part you are sewing is as flat as possible.

11) To work out how much 5 mm ( ¼ in) wide elastic you will need, tie it around your waist and stretch it a little, but so it is still comfortable. Cut, allowing an extra 2 cm ( ¾ in) for the overlap to join the two ends.

12) Attach a safety pin to one end of the elastic and push the safety pin through the hem to thread through the elastic. Make sure you don’t let go of the other end.

13) Then overlap the two ends by 1 cm ( ½ in) and stitch together. An overstitch would do it – the main thing is that it holds firmly, so use a double thread. It doesn’t need to be neat as it won’t be seen. Hand or machine stitch the gap in the hem to close it."

Tada! Thanks Lisa, it's so cute! I'm definitely going to have to give this a try with some of my stash fabric...


  1. Love your blog Tilly, I've been lurking for months and this will be my first comment =o)
    This post reminds me of a dress I made when I was about 12 years old with my older sister's help.
    It was shirred across the bodice like this skirt top but without the elastic in the casing top so you got a little ruffle.
    Add some tie on the shoulder straps and simple patch pockets and there's my mid 70's summer dress... made in hot pink seersucker of course! It was my favourite dress until it got too short and I got too old to wear any more.

    I love your style Tilly and all the beautiful clothes you make.
    I've been inspired to sew more of my own clothes thanks to blogs like yours, Joanne's and Jane's and I've even bought 'Handmade By Kathy' labels from Jane's supplier in the UK with thanks to a blog link involving a lobster dress worn to the races!!
    Best wishes from Kathy in Australia =o)

  2. Thank you for this! I've always avoided shirring as well - for some reason this particular tutorial makes me much less nervous about it - maybe because it's not telling me all the way through to stop being terrified of elastic in the bobbin? That usually has the opposite effect! I think I might have to try it out with some stash busting too.

  3. Shirring's been on my to try list for a while now. This has inspired me to bump it up the list a bit. I love the cherry fabric, wonder if I could find something like it...

    Life of an Agnostic Sunday School Teacher

  4. Really pretty, lovely fabric too.


  5. Yes, thank you Lisa. A great tutorial. Very clear and to the point. I have an industrial machine (Juki), would I use elastic thread the same way as a home sewing machine?

  6. Great tutorial ~ I have GOT to try this and make some pretty skirts. I LOVE those red shoes in the picture.


  7. I've always wondered how to make that. Tahnk you for giving me the clue !!! I'll try it for a top (not mad about wearing elastic around my waist...). Have a wonderful week-end!

  8. Looks fun! When it says put shirring elastic on bobbin as usual, how is that done? I have read elsewhere that the bobbin has to be wound by hand if you are using shirring elastic on it? Help please! :)

    1. I made this skirt today! It was my very first attempt at making a garment. Until now my sewing history consists of one huge pillow bed for my cat, which I added a zip to. . I know. . Challenging for a very first sewing project! It worked out well so then I Googled simple sewing machine projects for beginners and came across this fab blog. I found this skirt quite straight forwards although I found I did have to undo some parts more than once! I will definitely be sporting my new skirt as soon as the weather heats up a little. . Or if I can't wait that long, I might wear it with tights instead. Thank you so much for giving me an achievable beginners project!
      Sam xx

  9. This is so odd... I was looking for fabric online recently and spotted cherry fabric. I've been dithering over exactly how much to get, if any... But now it's falling under my fabric radar all over the place, here, as well as on 2 other dressmaking blogs! I think it's a sign. I'm off to buy some cherry fabric! Lovely skirt! x

  10. Love the blog! Love the photo of the cherry skirt teamed with blue tights and OMG those gorgeous shoes!!!

  11. this is such a cute skirt, must get some fabric! thanks so much, i've pinned this to my pinterest board so i don't forget :)


  12. Thanks for the pattern Tilly! I've just finished making it, and despite my elastic woes to begin with it looks rather lovely if I say so myself - http://cyandaisy.wordpress.com/2013/06/08/elasticated-skirt/ x

  13. Thanks for this great tutorial, I have officially just finished making my first item of clothing!! :) I found it all easy to follow but it did take me a few attempts to get the shearing to work :/ I found that you had to stretch the elastic in place when putting the bobbin in and then it all worked lovely. Im very happy with my final skirt and sat her wearing it while writing this. Still on the buzz of making it!! I think I'm going to try it again but alter it a bit so that I can add pockets.
    Thanks Tilly and Lisa :)


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